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2007-10-30

Italian Journalist Giuliana Sgrena to Appeal Court Ruling Dismissing Trial Against U.S. Soldier Accused of Shooting Her and Killing an Italian Intelligence Agent in Iraq

Guests

Giuliana Sgrena, veteran foreign correspondent for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto. She was held hostage by the Iraqi resistance in Iraq and survived an ambush-style attack by U.S. forces immediately after being freed. A senior Italian intelligence official, Nicola Calipari, was killed in that attack. She wrote about the incident in her book Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq, Rescued by an Italian Secret Service Agent, and Shot by U.S. Forces.

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The soldier, Mario Lozano, blames Giuliana Sgrena for the shooting which occurred shortly after she was freed after being held hostage in Iraq. He criticized Sgrena for going to Iraq and reporting on the war: "She knows that if she’s going to go talk to terrorists, she knows there’s a 99 percent chance she will get caught. ... It’s not my fault. It’s not America’s fault. It’s not the Italian government’s fault. It’s Sgrena’s fault." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: An Italian court has dismissed the trial of a U.S. soldier accused in the fatal shooting of an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq. Specialist Mario Lozano of the New York National Guard allegedly shot Nicola Calipari as he escorted the then-newly freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena to the airport in March of 2005. The Bush administration has refused to hand over Lozano, so prosecutors sought to try him in absentia. But last week, an Italian judge ruled Italy has no jurisdiction to pursue the case and threw out the charges.

In an interview with Reuters, Lozano expressed his relief at hearing the news.

MARIO LOZANO: I feel like there’s a weight off my shoulder. I could sleep easier, I feel now, even though I have to still live with the fact that I was involved in a innocent man’s death. But I feel good. I feel good for the Italian people that believed in me, you know, that they would dispense and my really innocent. You know, I showed them pictures, how close the car was. You know, I showed them facts. So I guess they put it all together, and they finally came with the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Specialist Mario Lozano goes on to directly blame Giuliana Sgrena, the kidnapped journalist, for what happened. Sgrena was in Iraq reporting for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, when she was kidnapped. Lozano criticized Sgrena for going to Iraq and reporting on the war.

MARIO LOZANO: I don’t blame her for being upset, but she has to take the focus off me a little bit and look at Sgrena, because if it wasn’t for Sgrena, this situation wouldn’t happen. You know, she went out there. She wanted to mingle with the terrorists and all that. And then she gets caught. Now we have to send — now we have to send good men to go after this one person that knows that she put herself in the situation. You know, she knows that if she’s going to go talk to terrorists, she knows there’s a 99 percent chance she will get caught. So, why did she do that for? It’s beyond my — you know, I don’t understand. So it’s her fault that this is happening, not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not America’s fault. It’s not the Italian government’s fault. It’s Sgrena’s fault.

AMY GOODMAN: That was New York National Guardsman Mario Lozano. He also said he lives under fear of being sought out for revenge over the shooting.

MARIO LOZANO: Mentally, I’ve endured so much stress, you know, looking in my rearview mirror to see whether anybody is following me, always thinking about, "Wait a minute, I just saw this car here; why is this car doing here again?" And, you know, there was always scenarios in my head, because you never know. You know, you never know who’s out there, you know, who — you know, you got a lot of psychos out there, you know, for whatever reason. I don’t know — situation that don’t never know.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Specialist Mario Lozano. We go now to Rome, where we’re joined by Giuliana Sgrena, the veteran foreign correspondent for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto. She wrote about the incident in her book Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq, Rescued by an Italian Secret Service Agent, and Shot by U.S. Forces. Giuliana Sgrena, welcome to Democracy Now!

GIULIANA SGRENA: Thank you. Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. I want to start first by your reaction to the Italian court throwing out the case against Mario Lozano.

GIULIANA SGRENA: I am really disappointed for the decision of the Italian court about the Lozano case, because they decided that Italy has no jurisdiction to put on trial Lozano. And this decision is based on a letter, a Colin Powell letter, that’s attached to the resolution — U.N. resolution. But it is a unilateral letter that was not accepted by other governments. So, also the prosecutors and our lawyers found that this is not a base to avoid our sovereignty on the Calipari case.

But I think that Lozano is — so he didn’t understand what happened in the court. So it was not absolved by the court, because there was no trial on the — against Lozano for the moment, because this decision, it was just about the possibility or not to put Lozano on trial, but we will go to another court, a higher court, the Cassazione, to appeal against this sentence. And we hope and we are sure that this court will cancel the sentence, because a lot of jurists, very important jurists, said that it is a big mistake not to consider the jurisdiction of Italy. So I think that is just a step, this one, and we will succeed and put Lozano on trial. So I think that — I don’t know if the lawyers didn’t explain him what happened in Italy. So, it’s not the case of a trial that absolved him; it’s just a case of no jurisdiction for the moment, but, I repeat, for the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Giuliana Sgrena, I now wanted to ask you about what Mario Lozano said, saying that it’s your fault, that you went out there, you wanted to "mingle with the terrorists and all that." He goes on to say, "Then she gets caught. Now we have to send — now we have to send good men to go after this one person," that "she put herself in the situation. ... She knows that if she’s going to go talk to terrorists, she knows there’s a 99 percent chance she will get caught. So, why did she do that for? ... I don’t understand. So it’s her fault that this [is happening]. ... It’s not my fault." Your response, Giuliana?

GIULIANA SGRENA: Oh, it’s not true. I was just doing my work, and many other journalists went to interview the refugees, the refugees of Fallujah. Me, I usually go to interview the refugees, because I think that it’s the people that more suffer for the situation. And also, in this case, I went there just to interview these refugees.

I know that for military, army, it’s not the case to go around and to do an independent work, because they want the journalists just to be embedded, but I can say that in the same day, the same moment that I was there doing to interview the refugees of Fallujah, there was also a photographer working for the U.S. Time taking pictures there. So I was not doing a work with terrorists, because if not everybody work with terrorists. I was just there to interview refugees.

And I think that this is the only way to do our job as we have to do it, because we have to listen to the people that is suffering under the occupation and not just interview the commanders or people that have weapons in their — that they’re using weapons. So I think that I was in a right position, and I will do always the same when I go around the world.

And I don’t understand what mean Lozano by saying that I was going there, doing something with terrorists. They were not terrorists. What means? So we don’t have the chance to do our work? Is it true that now we have not the chance to do our work true in Iraq, but this is because of the occupation and, of course, also because nobody in Iraq want to have witness there to see what is going on. But I was just doing my work.

AMY GOODMAN: Giuliana Sgrena, can you remind us what happened when you were released? From the point, well, that you learned you were going to be released — first who you were held by and then what happened, all the way through the shooting on your road to the airport?

GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes, when I was released, Calipari came to pick me up, and we were on the road to the airport, after, of course, giving the news to the person that were interested in, and we were on the way to the airport. It was dark, because it was night. And at a certain point, we were not so far from the airport, when they started to shoot us. At the beginning, I couldn’t understand who was shooting, because we were in the area controlled by the Americans, and I couldn’t believe that the Americans, they were shooting to us. There was Italian agents with me. So, really, it was really a shock.

And immediately, when they started to shoot, Calipari stopped to talk, and I realized that something was going wrong, because he didn’t speak to me. And the agent that was driving the car started to shout and to say that we were Italian, we were of the Italian embassy, just to try to stop the shooting. And when the shooting stopped, I saw that Calipari was killed. Me, I was wounded, and also the other agent. So, it was really a big shock.

But there were no warnings before the shooting. And the shooting, they reached the car, and they were, after — we can say now, after the inquiry, the Italian inquiry, because there was an Italian inquiry of the Italian justice, that against the car was shooted 58 bullets, and 57 bullets were against the passengers of the car and only the last one against the engine of the car. So if they wanted to stop the car, they had to shoot to the engine or to the wheels, but not to the passengers. And that’s why the Italian justice asked the trial for Lozano for voluntarily killing of Nicola Calipari. That’s the point. It’s not only my testify now; it’s the conclusion of the Italian justice inquiry.

AMY GOODMAN: The United States says that though the Italian authorities had informed the U.S. forces of the operation to free you after a month in captivity, there was a breakdown in their communications when the Italians’ car was heading to the airport. Now, the Italian report, ballistic experts found that the driver, another secret service officer, was driving at a normal speed and that U.S. troops gave no warnings before opening fire. The Italian probe also found there were no sign posts warning of the checkpoint. Lozano has contended that you all speeded up on your way to the airport.

GIULIANA SGRENA: No, that is not true. And also, the experts that analyzed the car, when came back to Italy, they found out that the car was not going fast. It was not going fast, and really there was no time for warnings, from when we appeared on the road and when they started shooting. So this is also the result of the inquiry, as I told before, because I have seen no warning before the shooting, and the car was not going fast. So there was no reason for a shooting.

And also, from my car, the agent that was driving the car, he called the Italian general that was in touch with the Americans in the airport to say that we were on the way to the airport. And even more, when I was released, under my head there was an American helicopter going around that was there all the time that I was waiting for Calipari to come and to pick me up. So they knew exactly what was going on.

And after, during the inquiry, when the Italians asked for the communication, for the tape of the communication, so they said that they were destroyed because there were no reason to keep this communication tape. I think that it’s an important point, this one, that they didn’t give the tape to the Italians to hear what happened during their way to the airport.

AMY GOODMAN: Who has that tape right now? And might this come out in the appeal?

GIULIANA SGRENA: I hope — we think that, as many jurists said, that the result of the — the sentence of the court last week was a big mistake. So we think that the higher court will cancel this sentence, and so she will appoint another court to go on with the trial, so we hope so, at least.

AMY GOODMAN: You are going to appeal?

GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes, of course. Me and also the wife of Calipari and also the prosecutors — everybody will go on.

AMY GOODMAN: The response of the wife of Calipari. I mean, for people to understand, he was one of the highest ranking intelligence officers in Italy, came to Iraq to negotiate your freedom, very close to the Bush ally, the former prime minister of Italy, Berlusconi.

GIULIANA SGRENA: Yes, she is also very disappointed, because she said, "My husband was killed twice," because what we are asking is not just to condemn Lozano — we don’t want a scapegoat — we want to know what happened that night. And we think that the trial will be useful to know what happened. So that’s why we want a trial, and we are fighting together for a trial.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Giuliana Sgrena, what do you think happened that night? Why do you think Mario Lozano, the New York National Guardsman, opened fire on your car?

GIULIANA SGRENA: Why?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

GIULIANA SGRENA: I don’t know why. I don’t know if he knew who was —- who were the passenger of the car, of course. I don’t know if maybe he just answered to an order. So that’s why I wanted Mario Lozano to tell the truth to the trial or in any way to tell the truth, and not just accusing me that it’s my fault. It’s not my fault. He was shooting to us. I didn’t shoot to anybody. So, he shooted, and he has to give us a reason why he shooted, even if it was an order. When I was in United States, I heard from a lot of veterans against the war that they were obliged to shoot when they were in Iraq. So I think that we can understand that he also was a victim of the war. But he has to tell the truth, not just to tell that it’s my fault. It’s not my fault. He has to realize that it is his fault, because he shoot to us and to Calipari. He killed Calipari. So he has to explain. I can imagine that he has psychological problems because of the shooting, because it’s normal for a normal person, it’s normal to have psychological problems if you kill a man. So I think that he has to realize -—

AMY GOODMAN: Giuliana Sgrena, we’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you very much for joining us. Giuliana Sgrena is the veteran foreign correspondent for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto. And she has written a book about her experience of the kidnapping in Iraq — her kidnapping — and what happened to her when she was released. Her book is called Friendly Fire: The Remarkable Story of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq.

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